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valerie plante

It’s December 31st again. But it’s been no typical year.

This time last year, I wondered whether we were a little too eager to leap from the frying pan into the fire. One year later, I can say unequivocally: I was right.

Even just a short list of what’s happened in the USA the past 12 months is far more frightening than anything that we could have imagined in our worst dystopian nightmares. From Russian collusion, to neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to Muslim immigration bans, to a tax bill that will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer, to Puerto Rico still underwater months after Hurricane Maria, any short list of lowlights is just bad news following worse news. And that’s to say nothing of how we’re all cringing every time Donald Trump accesses Twitter to wonder if today is the day he’ll launch World War III.

What will 2018 bring in the US?

There are those who see signs that the year ahead will be better. Roy Moore lost in Alabama, after all. Surely that means the Left is mobilizing and is getting ready to take down Trump and the GOP in the midterms? Right?

Wrong.

Let’s consider the unique circumstances: The Republicans ran basically the worst human being ever (after Trump, perhaps) — a racist detached piece of megalomaniac scum who is also an alleged child molester — in what they thought was a safe state. And he still got almost half the votes. He only lost because African-Americans and minorities — who generally vote in much smaller numbers, in no small part because of a concerted effort to suppress their votes — turned out in big numbers to vote against him.

It’s an entirely different story in the 2018 midterms. The electoral math is staggeringly terrible for the Democrats in both the Senate — where they’re defending 25 seats to the GOP’s 8 — and the gerrymandered-beyond-redemption House of Representatives. No matter how bad Trump’s approval numbers are, it seems like an act of divine intervention would be needed for the Democrats to win back even one, let alone both, houses.

And scariest of all, Trump may actually get more powerful in 2018, as he appoints more judges to stack the courts in his favour. The one saving grace in 2017 is that many of Trump’s most egregious acts were blocked by the courts. But the President appoints judges, so this was a temporary stopgap measure at best. As more and more judges are appointed to the appeals courts by Trump, even that last-ditch safeguard will fall by the wayside.

I’m reminded of the old Yiddish folk tale: “It could always be worse“.

What about closer to home?

Here in Canada, things are a little less awful. Justin Trudeau may not be entirely living up to the high hopes that the Left had for him. But let’s face it: next to the likes of Trump, Theresa May, or most of the rest of the world’s leaders (democratic or otherwise), he’s still a breath of fresh air. He’s broken some promises and waffled on others, sure. But despite his penchant for selfies and occasional faux pas, I believe he’s still fundamentally a decent human being.

Meanwhile, Montreal has a shiny new female mayor in Valerie Plante, who so far has reversed the pit bull ban and cancelled the Formula E race. So what if she’s failed to defend diversity convincingly, and her more outlandish ideas, like the metro’s pink line, will never get built? At least the stakes here are refreshingly low. Montreal will go into its 376th year with just as many potholes as ever. Plus ├ža change.

More worrisome is our provincial political scene. 2018 is an election year, and the right-wing CAQ is riding high in the polls. There’s a lot of time between now and October, to be sure. But the prospects look bleak: The Liberals have alienated everyone with their overly zealous austerity measures, corrupt spending, and ill-conceived face-covering ban of Bill 62, just to name a few. Couillard’s approval rating is hovering around the 32% mark, which is worse than Trump’s! Both the PQ and the CAQ are determined to play the xenophobia card to win the racist vote. There’s no good alternative for anglos, minorities, or anyone with a fundamental sense of decency. Our province, already plagued with racial tension and divisive politics, is liable to get worse.

On a personal note

All things considered, my personal 2017 wasn’t all that bad.

I shared good times with friends and loved ones. I welcomed two new baby cousins to the world. I tasted good food, good chocolate, good beer. I had a pretty good year career-wise, working with a fantastic team of wonderful, smart people, one of the few lucky enough to actually make a living at something I enjoy. I live in a city I love with my whole heart. These things can’t be underestimated, and I’m grateful.

I travelled a fair bit: Ottawa, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Portland. In the spring, I visited two new countries — Peru and Bolivia — and ticked off another one of the Seven Wonders from my bucket list. My itchy feet are always seeking out the next adventure.

Like most people, I’ve tried to do what I can in whatever limited capacity I had in order to fight to make things better: Marches, vigils, protests. It never seems like enough. But every time we show up to be counted, to say not in my name, it’s something, at least.

The point is, I’m lucky. And I’m grateful. Like most people this year, I have tried to balance my need to be informed with my need to stay sane. That means I’ve curled up in a cocoon a bit, away from the news, in order to regain my balance. It means I’ve spent time disconnected from the ever-pervasive Internet and its seemingly endless horror stories. Time with friends, time on the ski hill or hiking or biking, time in front of a fireplace with a good book. Balance is a tricky thing, especially when it’s layered with so much guilt. But self-care is important: You can’t help anyone else until you put your oxygen mask on yourself first, right?

What lies ahead?

There’s reason to hope that 2018 won’t be the end of all things. We humans have lived through much worse before, and we’re survivors.

If travel has taught me anything, it’s that despite the politicians and the power-mongers, most people in the world are fundamentally good and decent. If we keep remembering to look out for one another, to help those in need, and to hold onto our humanity, we will get through even this.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen

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